Azaadville is a small town of a few thousand inhabitants, surrounded by huge mounds of sand which point to the gold mining activity that this neck of the woods is more famous for. It is by no stretch of the imagination, a back-water town; we are not cut off from the world in any manner, and have access to all types of media and amenities. But the fervour with which religion is practised here, is disturbingly out of character for such a locality.
Within a few square kilometers we have three mosques (I cannot really say if the three mosques are divided by the two major Muslim denominations, Sunni and Shi’a, but it is highly likely), two temples (one for North Indians and one for South Indians), a kind of hall above a shop that serves as a Church, an Islamic University and a private Islamic school. With so many religious facilities confined to such a small area, one can be forgiven for thinking that Azaadville is Jerusalem without the Jews; but the Hindus with their temples make up for the missing desert dogma.
Muslim’s in their flowing robes, can be clearly seen clamouring to one of these mosques, five times a day, every day. On Fridays, the businessmen even close their shops at around lunch time to attend prayer services. Hindus, North and South Indian, throng to the temples at least once a day, every week. The Christians, to their credit attend Church services once every Sunday, or at most two or three times a week if there is a special occasion or service. It thus seems pretty obvious, that after the Moslem’s, the Hindus are most in need of their God; or perhaps their God is most in need of them.
I am boarding with a friend, whose wife, a South Indian, spends about as much time at the temple as she does at home. Even when at home, she spends quite a bit of time on the phone, dispensing religious instruction and organizing prayer events, in between the customary doses of gossip. She reminds me of airline passengers who collect frequent flyer miles; only she is clocking up “worship time” in lieu of air-miles, for that one-way ticket to heaven.
Well, at least the Hindu and Christian women are allowed to attend temple services; seems that the role of Muslim women is confined to being the home-maker. However, Hindu women cannot attend temple services when they are menstruating. I’ve heard them say that they are unclean, although why women would consider the natural act of menstruation as unclean, is strange to say the least. Perhaps it’s a belief forced on them by their religion; in which case I’m not at all surprised. I’ve also noticed that Hindu women take the lead when it comes to most religious activity, which leads me to believe that (Hindu) women are either more religious than men, or are more susceptible to the irrational allure of religion.
Having to listen to the incessant chatter about religion and gods and prayer events from my friend’s wife, and the Islamic call to prayer blaring five times a day from loudspeakers mounted on the Mosque minarets, is kinda getting to me. However, as long as all this religious fervour is carried out peacefully and the adherents don’t bother me too much with their proselytizing, I suppose I could still tolerate it; like when birds crap on my freshly-washed car.